By Vern Faulkner
Saanich News
March 11, 2003

Happy workers are good workers – it might sound like a 20th century Marxist rallying cry, but free market managers at Vancouver Island Technology Park (VITP) are convinced that creating a positive environment for their employees is crucial to succeeding in today's high pressure corporate culture. 

They say it's a simple philosophy and one that is grounded in common sense – employees who are more content are less stressed and more productive – and from its cutting-edge and award-winning "green" design to its growing list of amenities, the VITP is attracting new tenants who are enticed by its worker-friendly atmosphere. 

While the tech park's on-site cafeteria and Starbucks coffee shop are hardly new to the corporate scene, the facility could be setting a new trend with its fully-equipped exercise area, on-site chiropractic services, basketball court, and pristine walking trails. All of the amenities serve a function and are part of VITP's calculated formula for success – serving the needs of people who work there. 

Joe Van Bellegham, the tech park's business development and green initiatives manager, is toying with the idea of providing laundry service to tech park clients. 

"The laundry company would come in, pick things up, and then deliver it back," explains Van Bellegham. "It simplifies people's lives so they don't have to be constantly on the go, in the car, trying to organize their life." 

Van Bellegham says businesses that were once slavishly preoccupied with their bottomlines are beginning to focus more on managing their biggest expenditure — salaries – and discovering that they will get a significant return on their investment if they spend money to improve the efficiency of their workers. They are "starting to understand" that simply providing their employees with a workstation is not necessarily enough. 

Amos Rowsel has been a tech park tenant for about a year. A specialist in graphics and animation, Rowsel considers the VITP's unique workplace culture a vital asset. 

"It's pretty nice. In the summer, you can go out and play basketball during a break," he says. 

Rowsel participates in a tech park-wide foosball league, just one of the signs of the healthy interaction that goes on among those who work – and sometimes play – together at the tech park. 

Interestingly, when Rowsel's employer – ETraffic Solutions – moved into the building, it immediately saw a 30 per cent increase in productivity, without hiring a single additional employee. 

That growth has been so steady, that soon, Rowsel will be able to scout foosball talent from additional co-workers: the company expanded this month, with potential to expand again in the near future. 

Mary McFarland is the vice-president of administration at Epic Biosonics, one of the tech park's very first tenants. There's an intangible value, she says, both in the surrounding trails and green space and in the tech park's deliberate attempts to create a harmonious internal working culture. 

"Just being somewhere where you can look out, and actually see green space – that's fabulous," she says. "I think it will be really a dynamic place to be when there are more tenants in the building and I really look forward to interacting with them." 

Epic Biosonics CEO Peter Baille has another way of describing the tech park's culture and atmosphere. 

"It's campus-like, I think, that's probably the best way to put it," he says adding that his company moved into the tech park because "it provided us with a facility that we could do whatever we needed to make it work for us. It's really functional." 

On Friday evenings, when workers in many companies around town can't wait to file out of their offices, many of the tech park workers, from CEOs and executives to front-line programmers, stay put at the park for what has become a weekly social gathering – often with their spouses and children. 

It is that kind of casual, welcoming atmosphere that Baille and others who work at VITP say is simply part of the "tech park" vibe, a natural outcome of its thriving and positive culture. After some thought, Baille likens it to the indefinable "chemistry" often associated with championship sports teams. 

"You hear players enter different facilities and how they feel – how they have that emotional interaction," he ventures. "It's different in each facility you go into and it has an effect on the performance. It's difficult to quantify." 

Quantifiable or otherwise, Baille is certain of the benefit. "It's really conducive to us getting our work done."